In portrait photography, one of the surest ways to make your work look a little “off” is to give your subject an unflattering representation of their skin tone. You can compose a fantastic shot and get the lighting just right, but if you mess up the skin tone, your photo is toast. For a portrait photographer with a Mastin Labs-centric workflow, choosing the right preset or style (that’s Capture One lingo for preset) is vital to doing your subject’s skin justice.
Choosing a Mastin Labs preset, or a corresponding film type for that matter is surprisingly comparable to choosing the right makeup. Makeup that looks good on someone with light, cool tones in their skin won't be a match for someone with deep, warm tones. Though, it's not entirely as cut and dry with presets; sometimes, the same preset can look great on either end of the skin tone spectrum. The thing to keep in mind is the preset tones and how those tones look combined with your subject's skin tone.
By choosing the right preset for your subject's skin tone, you can stick to our recommended "three-click edit," with no futzing with H/S/L sliders to adjust skin tones.
Fuji Original is the most universally flattering Mastin Labs preset pack. Its cyan and red base complement most skin tones very well, with the most substantial shift applying to fair skin. Fuji presets don't make dark skin tones too orange and can also give fair skin a porcelain appearance. Fuji Pushed has a similar base while providing an overall higher contrast, more saturated look with color tints in the shadows and highlights.
Adventure Everyday features two color and one black-and-white preset. Ektar is a vibrant film with red undertones, which can look beautiful with dark skin tones. By the same token, if your subject has a lot of redness in their skin, like rosacea or a sunburn, Ektar will enhance the reds in ways that may not be flattering.
Both Portra packs are best suited to light skin tones, as the orange undertones can be overbearing for darker skin, bringing out too much orange and making the skin look too saturated. Like Fuji Pushed, Portra Pushed introduces tints into the shadow and highlight tones as well as more contrast and saturation.
Ilford Original is a beautiful pack that can work with any skin tone, and it eliminates any issues with tone or saturation. While going black and white is the easiest way not even to have to think about skin tones, it's best to make sure you understand how to work with diverse skin tones first and make black and white an aesthetic choice, not a band-aid for bad color!
Troubleshooting Skin Tones
If you've taken care to choose the right preset for your subject's skin and things still aren't looking right, there are some easy steps you can take for better results.
- White Balance - White balance is the usual suspect for unwanted color casts. If your subject's skin is looking too warm or a bit orange, try cooling your white balance down first.
- Exposure - If your subject's skin looks too saturated, try bringing up the exposure. If your image is underexposed, skin tones can look oversaturated and patchy. Boosting the exposure can counteract this and smooth things out. This also goes for that sunburned subject we discussed earlier - bumping up the exposure can reduce that red saturation.
Now you're ready to make sure all of your subjects look like a million bucks with the beautiful, natural skin tones they deserve.
Cover photo by Joshua Mcknight